Recently a member of a private Facebook group of which I'm a member posted this question:
For all the full-time firearm instructors where your only “day job” centers around firearms and self-defense how did you get there? What does it take?
I had enough to say on the topic to justify typing up this article.
Truthfully there are so very few firearm instructors who can actually teach firearm classes full time without some other revenue source and make a decent living. Those who do are either celebrity types who are on the road constantly to come by invitation to large ranges and academies who sell their classes for them OR they are people who are full time employed at a gun range. There are exceptions but it generally means a very slow growth business plan and never having a free weekend again.
I, for example, am not truthfully a full-time firearm instructor. I don't make the majority of my income in front of students teaching classes. I do however have a “day job” that centers around firearms and self-defense.
So with that in mind here are a few suggestions or thoughts for anyone who wants to grow their side business of firearm instruction into something more substantial in the firearm industry:
Get a Day Job Working for a Company In The Industry
If you want to be a full-time firearm instructor you can work at a gun range or training academy. Ranges have built-in foot traffic and generally do well at filling classes. They need instructors to teach those classes. Even if it isn't your long term goal to work for someone else you will gain valuable experience both as an instructor and in terms of the marketing and other aspects of the business.
Outside of working as an instructor, there are enough related companies in this industry to make you dizzy. Just look at the number of exhibitors at SHOT Show and then triple it to account for the companies that are too small to afford or justify a booth at that event.
Getting a job with any of these companies will put you in the industry and allow you to learn infinitely more about opportunities. Where possible try to travel to all of the major industry trade shows where you will be able to network and learn a ton more about the opportunities out there.
Eventually, you may make the right connection or acquire the right insights to start something new or just scale your training business enough to make it your full-time job.
Deepen Your Product Offering
The biggest limiting behavior that prevents firearm instructors from growing their business is only offering one or two class options. We all know firearm education is a journey, not a destination so we need to offer a line up of training products that accompanies the consumer from the beginning of the journey all the way through and ongoing.
You have to think of your business like any other business which means there are two ways to increase revenue. First, get more customers. Second, get more business from existing and past customers. Most firearm instructors neglect the second most of all.
Build out a full product offering that addresses the consumers needs and desires throughout their firearm training journey and then spend your marketing budget getting people into the top of your marketing funnel. Provide a quality experience and move your customers through the “product lineup” by bringing them back for more and more classes.
Study Advertising and Marketing or Partner With Someone Who Does
In my experience firearm trainers are not great marketers. Frankly, most business owners are not great marketers but as a business gets large enough it can afford to hire someone internally or an external contractor or agency to manage advertising and marketing.
This is how small businesses become big businesses. Since most firearm instruction businesses are small 1-2 person companies the bar is set low and with some solid marketing and advertising expertise you can probably greatly scale your business.
Maximize Other Revenue Opportunities
Recognize that the odds of you ever building the business to a point where you can afford a great lifestyle by doing nothing but teaching classes is very low. Even if you could it would probably mean no free weekends ever again. So you have to consider other streams of revenue that are related.
For many, this may be promoting affiliate offers from companies like ConcealedCarry.com or one of the major insurance providers you love or whoever is willing to pay you to promote/resell their product to your students. That by itself won't be significant but it is one example of a way to increase revenue or value per student.
Another way to increase revenue would be to build a strong and engaged online audience via a combination of blog, social media, and an email list. Then monetize that audience with sponsorships, affiliate offers, and ongoing training.
If you are a quality firearm instructor and provide great value for your students they will be open to engaging with you on an ongoing basis and considering suggestions you make about products to buy and training to take. The catch is that you need the means to communicate with them ongoing and that is where email and social media can be valuable.
My Personal Story – Quitting my Day Job
I started teaching firearm training classes in Utah in 2007. In 2015 I quit my day job to do this full time. If I stopped the story there you may assume that I just finally got enough students coming to enough classes to make it. Not exactly.
By 2008 I was partnering with instructors in other markets and helping promote and advertise their classes the same way I had success promoting my own classes. But truthfully there wasn't enough margin in that business model to support my family.
My pivot happened when I decided to start selling physical products. When I opened the eCommerce store and started spending hard-earned money on a solid advertising strategy we unlocked the opportunity to quit the day job and take a run at this. Your story may be different but however, you try to make it happen I applaud you and your efforts.
Thank you for helping American gun owners and for supporting our second amendment rights!
Jacob Paulsen | President ConcealedCarry.com
PS: A shameless plug for our instructor network. Click here to learn more and see if we can help send you more students and support the growth of your business.